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What this expensive ‘secure’ phone tells us about mobile hacking

John Brandon | Sept. 7, 2016
Will a $12,000 phone protect you from mobile malware?

Mobile security is a bit of a misnomer. Few of us can say we’ve been attacked by a piece of malware or have quarantined an actual virus. The odds are stacked against us. Mobile operators like Verizon and Sprint routinely scan for threats, and both Google Android and the Apple iPhone include multiple security measures on their devices, from fingerprint scanners to full encryption.

Yet, there’s a sneaking suspicion that mobile security is a bigger concern. According to one HP report, 67 percent of employees in the U.S. now work remotely. We’re relying on phones more and more. We store sensitive business documents on them and use them to make purchases.

Recently, a malware client called Pegasus appeared in the wild. It uses a fairly predictable attack strategy that’s well known to anyone who has been the victim of a phishing scam. A text message tricks you into responding and installing an app. The malware can then jailbreak your phone, eventually installing a client that can capture data, per Symantec reports.

What can be done? One solution is the Solarin phone from a company called Sirin Labs based in the UK and Israel. It costs £9,500 (or about $12,500). The features on this 5.5-inch phone reveal quite a bit about where mobile security might be heading and the future of mobile hacking.

Warding off the bad guys

The most interesting feature is a switch on the back of the device. When enabled, the Solarin enters a secure mode that encrypts all text messages. There's a "concierge" service that monitors apps and can alert you if there is an issue. The phone uses chip-to-chip 256-bit AES encryption, and the "secure" mode disables all sensors like the GPS chip, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi.

Another feature has to do with the people communicating with you. If you want to text or call someone from the phone, they have to use the Secure Comm app for Android or iOS.

The high price for the phone -- coupled with these added steps for security -- reveal what it takes to block intruders both now and in the next few years. As Alex Manea, the director of BlackBerry Security at BlackBerry, tells CSO, not securing a phone is a bit like leaving the house with the front door open when you leave. We’re using mobile devices more than ever for not just some of our sensitive information but all of it, including all of our files, contacts, and bank records.

"As phones have gotten more advanced, so have potential vulnerabilities and so the need for secure devices and services is a hot topic again," says Manea.

As phones have gotten more advanced, so have potential vulnerabilities and so the need for secure devices and services is a hot topic again.

 

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